Eurocontrol – the pan-European organisation supporting European aviation – has published new forecasts looking at “the possible evolution of domestic and international air traffic in Europe over the coming four years taking into account the expected evolution of the Covid-19 pandemic”.

The first scenario sees traffic recover to 2019 levels by 2024, but the organisation says that this “is considered optimistic given the current state of vaccine rollout progress, with a coordinated approach across States less likely to be reached in the coming months”.

Eurocontrol says that the most likely scenario sees traffic recover to 95 per cent of pre-pandemic levels during 2024 “based on widespread vaccination take-up across Europe and coordinated easing of travel restraints being reached by Q1 2022 between global regions, with more long-haul flows starting to return”.

And in a stark warning to governments and the aviation industry, a third forecast sees a full recovery taking until at least 2029. The organisation says that this “pessimistic” scenario would come about as a result of “persistent restrictions over the coming years owing to patchy vaccine uptakes and/or renewed outbreaks of new virus strains, with passenger confidence negatively impacted”.

IATA’s director general (and former IAG boss) Willie Walsh recently said that he was confident that travel would come back – “domestic before international, leisure before business, but we have to be confident of 2022”.

Zero-risk approach to travel is ‘not practical’, says IATA Director General, Willie Walsh

Commenting on the forecasts Eamonn Brennan, director general of Eurocontrol, said:

“The situation remains very challenging for European aviation. We’re heading into summer 2021 and most restrictions are still in place despite encouraging progress on the vaccination front.

“So while we are anticipating an uptick in summer traffic, our most likely medium term scenario envisages a coordinated lifting of restrictions by Q1 2022 between regions, which facilitates more long-haul travel.

“We’ll probably have around 50 per cent of 2019 traffic for all of 2021 (5.5 million flights). By the end of next year, traffic will only have recovered to 72 per cent of 2019 levels, and will only get back to close to where we were pre-pandemic by 2025.”

“The pace of recovery will be driven by vaccine progress and by States adopting consistent and coherent measures to support the aviation industry and ensure that passengers feel safe to fly again.

“In this regard, there is an urgent need for a commonly accepted approach like the proposed EU “Digital Green Certificate”, one that can provide passengers, airlines and airports alike with the certainty they need to resume travel.”